Discuss "Mac Flecknoe" as a personal satire.

Dryden's "Mac Flecknoe" uses epic diction and parodies the conventions of epic poetry in order to ridicule Shadwell's personality and his poetry. Alongside this parody is more straightforward personal attack, accusing Shadwell of stupidity and dullness.

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John Dryden’s poem “Mac Flecknoe” can be discussed as an example of personal satire because Dryden is mocking a personal nemesis—the poet and playwright Thomas Shadwell—and lambasting worldly tropes. Without the general monarchical context, Shadwell’s supposed lack of talent becomes less absurd. Without Shadwell, Dryden’s poem becomes...

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John Dryden’s poem “Mac Flecknoe” can be discussed as an example of personal satire because Dryden is mocking a personal nemesis—the poet and playwright Thomas Shadwell—and lambasting worldly tropes. Without the general monarchical context, Shadwell’s supposed lack of talent becomes less absurd. Without Shadwell, Dryden’s poem becomes more of a satire on royal ceremony and less a caricature of Shadwell.

The start of the poem might be seen as a parody of monarchs and the order of succession. In the first part of the poem, Dryden describes an “aged prince” called Flecknoe. This ruler has governed the “realms of Non-sense” for a long time. Now, it’s time for him to pass the figurative torch to someone else. That person is Shadwell.

Typically, someone would want to become a king and gain power over a given territory. Yet Dryden uses Shadwell’s ascension to the throne as a way to personally ridicule him. The traits that qualify Shadwell to be king are not honorable ones. It is not his smarts and his wits that render him fit to rule; it is, ironically, his stupidity and dullness.

Again, in the poem, Dryden pairs the pompous aspects of royal tradition with what he feels to be the glaringly deficient literary talents of Shadwell. By placing Shadwell in the context of grandiose worldly politics, Dryden puts Shadwell in a place where his faults can be spotlighted and extensively lampooned.

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By the time that he came to write "Mac Flecknoe," John Dryden had participated in a long series of quarrels—personal, professional, and political—with Thomas Shadwell, the subject of his satire. Dryden's style is mock epic, and he makes his subject into an inverted Odysseus. Whereas Odysseus was known for his quick wits and brilliant abilities, Shadwell's name is continually associated with dullness and stupidity, as when Flecknoe says:

Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
Mature in dullness from his tender years.
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
Who stands confirm'd in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Here, the satire is straightforward enough, since Flecknoe says exactly what Dyden means. However, Dryden also ridicules Shadwell in a more circumspect manner by the use of bathos, continually employing grandiose epic diction, which is then promptly undercut by squalid, trivial details. These satirize both Shadwell and, more broadly, the modern age, which is shown to be petty in comparison with the age of heroes, often by the use of familiar and unglamorous London locations.
Now Empress Fame had published the renown,
Of Shadwell's coronation through the town.
Roused by report of fame, the nations meet,
From near Bun-Hill, and distant Watling Street.
Like the ancient Roman satirists who are his models, Martial and Juvenal, Dryden associates the personality of his target with the age in which he lives, which is also dull and deserves no better heroes. It is this way of writing that gives the satire of Dryden, and his eighteenth-century successors, Pope and Swift, a general quality of belittling and looking backward which goes beyond the immediate target and encompasses society as a whole. Only such a corrupt age, in Dryden's view, could support such a talentless poet.
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"Mac Flecknoe" by John Dryden is a satire in verse about a fellow poet and contemporary of Dryden's named Thomas Shadwell. This poem can be considered a personal satire because it highlights and attacks the shortcomings of a specific individual, namely, Thomas Shadwell.

A satire is a literary form that shines a light on the flaws of an individual person or a society in the hopes that such problems will become known by the public. Here, Dryden's subject, a poet named Shadwell, is satirized by the speaker of the poem from the beginning of the first stanza, in which Shadwell is identified as the son of a king of prose and verse who rules over "the realms of Non-sense." The king must select one of his sons to take his place, and he chooses Shadwell, who is described in satirically diabolical terms. He is described as "mature in dullness from his tender years," he is known to be "confirm'd in full stupidity," and he is a person who "never deviates into sense." Just from the very first stanza, the reader can identify some serious insults being levelled against Shadwell.

Throughout the lengthy poem, Dryden does not miss any opportunities to make fun of Shadwell and his poetic style. Dryden uses a humorous, ironically elevated diction and tone throughout the poem, which emphasizes the satire even more pointedly; a poet this bad hardly deserves the heroic treatment Dryden offers, unless of course the heroic language is mock-heroic and ironic (which, of course, it is). By the end of the poem, Dryden even satirizes Shadwell's own attempts at writing satire: "Thy inoffensive satires never bite." The last line of the poem delivers a death blow to Shadwell. By accusing Shadwell of having more than his share of his invented father's gift for terrible poetry, Dryden leaves the reader with no doubt regarding his scorn for Shadwell and his writing.

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